Today we’re going to hear a sermon that was first preached on 13 January 1980, at Trinity Presbyterian Church, in Montgomery, by my pastor, Dr. Robert J. Ostenson, whom we fondly called Dr. O. I preached another of his sermons from Daniel 3 a year ago, here, which got some good feedback. And it was recently requested of me to preach another.
Now, if you don’t remember (or are new), my parents first heard Dr. O preach in 1974—his first Sunday at Trinity. It also happened to be their first time to visit the church. After hearing Dr. O’s sermon, my dad was hooked. He says he’d never heard preaching like that before, and he wanted more of it. So, they joined the church, which had just broken from the old denomination, as part of the new denomination, the PCA. Over the years, Dad collected many of Dr. O’s sermons on cassette tape (which date from March 1975 to January 1985), and he listened to them over and over to where some of the tapes were pretty worn out. As a labor of love, a few years back, I converted all the viable tapes (97 sermons) to digital and posted them on my website.
As Dr. O opened this series on Daniel 1-6, he said,
“Now, Lord willing, we’re going to devote the next several Sunday mornings to a study of this important book. Not to be sensational, but because this is part of God’s whole counsel unto men; because Daniel is part of God’s infallible Word; and because this book contains spiritual truth that is not only illuminating to our minds, but it is comforting and it is challenging to believers who live in this 20th century.”
Forty-one years after these sermons were first preached, Dr. O’s insights for the 20th century church in the U.S. (drawn from the goings-ons in the 6th cent. B.C. Babylon) continue to speak the truth to us in 2021. You’ll probably catch some of the dated aspects of Dr. O’s message, speaking directly to the world situation when he preached (something that is constantly changing), but the main thrust of his message remains apt and applicable to us. It’s a remarkable thing, and I hope you’re blessed by it.
And while the PCA mostly uses the ESV, these days, note that Dr. O used the KJV, so that is the version I’m using today.
So, hear the words from the past, on the words from the ancient past, speaking to us today.
Daniel 1:8-18 (KJV)
8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. 9 Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. 10 And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king. 11 Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. 13 Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. 14 So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days. 15 And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat. 16 Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.
17 As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.
Dr. Robert J. Ostenson
“Four Who Said ‘No’”
One of the most neglected books of the Bible is the Book of Daniel. Modern critical scholarship has done its very best to do away with and disprove this book, largely because of the great prophecies that are found in this book. Unbelief, which denies the supernatural, cannot condone the fact that this book reveals prophecies hundreds of years ahead of the time in which they were actually fulfilled. Unbelief, which does not believe that God has given his written Word to man, cannot accept the fact that God revealed to a man truth concerning historical events, which were to be fulfilled hundreds of years down the road. As a consequence, unbelief has denied the authorship by Daniel. It has tried to advance a later date of writing, saying that Daniel was written hundreds of years after the actual events had taken place.
But let it be said, in the absence of historic or scientific evidence (on their part), there is no reason for us to depart from the traditional, Judeo-Christian dating of the book of Daniel, in the 6th Century B.C., nor of the authorship by the prophet.
The only book that is comparable to this book is the book of Revelation, in the New Testament. This book was written during the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people, but what we find in this book is the revelation of the march of empires and the revealed truth that our sovereign God rules over the events of history, over nations, and over men.
There’s another conclusive reason why we should not depart from the traditional view of the dating and the authorship of this book, and that’s the authority of the Lord Jesus himself. For our blessed Lord, in his great Olivet Discourse, in Matt. 24, refers to the authorship of Daniel. Yay, the Son of God puts his stamp of authority upon the authenticity of the authorship of the prophet. For we read in Matt. 24:15, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand).”
This morning, we consider the first chapter under the title “Four Who Said ‘No,’” and at once we’re ushered into a scene that is tragically too familiar to us today. It’s the picture of the occupation of a country by a foreign power, and the seizure of its inhabitants, and their forced labor by the conquerors.
But immediately we must add right here, that which had taken place (namely, the siege and the sack and the captivity of Jerusalem) had been ordained and decreed by Almighty God; because he had warned his chosen people again and again that unless they repented, and unless they turned from their apostasy and turned back unto him, he would certainly bring judgment upon them. He had announced this to them time and again through his prophets that judgment would come unless they turned back to the living God.
By way of background, you’ll remember that at Mt. Sinai, God entered into a covenant relationship with the people of Israel. He had manifested that they had been his chosen people by the fact that he had brought them through a great deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. And there, at Mt. Sinai, he entered into a covenant relationship with them. And so, God’s purpose was that these people, now, in a real sense, should be a kingdom of priests. They should be a theocracy, that is, a God-ruled people. It was to be a holy nation. It was to be a witness to the Gentiles. They were to be the instrument for bearing the knowledge of the true God to the rest of the world.
However, we know that Israel was not faithful to their high calling. After they had been in the promised land for a short time, they wanted to break the principles of the theocracy. They looked about them. They saw all the heathen nations with their kings. And they said, “We want a human king.” And so God granted them their request and brought leanness to their souls. And their first king was Saul, and he was followed by David (a man after God’s heart). But, because David was a man of war, God would not permit David to build the temple, which was the symbol of God’s kingdom. But, rather, during the peaceful reign of Solomon, son of David, the temple was built. But, after the death of Solomon, the northern tribes rebelled against the theocracy, against the kingdom, and they renounced the covenant relationship. And the remaining history of Israel, in both the North and the South, is a history of wickedness, of apostasy, of idol worship, of turning from the Almighty. And, consequently, God announces that he will bring judgment upon his covenant people.
For example, we have the remarkable words of Isaiah the prophet to King Hezekiah found in the 39th chapter of Isaiah, beginning in v. 5:
5 Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: 6 Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. 7 And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.
Now, mark you, Hezekiah reigned in Jerusalem from the year 728 B.C. to the year 696 B.C. The time of the siege mentioned in these opening verses of Daniel, ch. 1 took place around 607 or 606 B.C. In other words, 100 years intervened between the time of the prophecy through Isaiah to Hezekiah to the fulfillment that we find here in the first chapter of the book of Daniel.
Now, we know there were three sieges by Nebuchadnezzar, the last taking place in 586 B.C., when Jerusalem was torn asunder, the temple was razed, and thousands of Jews were carried into captivity to Babylon. God did just exactly as he had said 100 years before. He said to the Israelites, “Unless you repent and turn from your sin, I will bring judgment upon you and I will tear your sons off into captivity.” The theocracy came to an end. God brought judgment.
And may I insert here, we have a graphic illustration of God doing what he has done time and again down through biblical history. God has used pagans, unbelieving nations and peoples, as his instrument or his whip for bringing judgment and chastisement upon his covenant people. God has not hesitated to do this time and again. And under the power of this heathen empire, the theocratic people were carried away into captivity. And this is the beginning of the exile or the time of the indignation. We read here that the holy and sacred vessels from the temple of God were carried away and put in the pagan storehouses of Babylon. But, in addition to this, we find what we have here in Daniel, ch. 1, just as God said that he would, King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the master of the eunuchs to take some of the best young men from the kingdom and from the nation of Israel, some of the royal seed, to take them back into Babylon and train them for service in the royal Babylonian court.
And here we find that four fine, robust young men, Jewish boys, were taken away from their homes in Jerusalem and they were carried to Babylon for training and education to serve in the Babylonian court. This involved every area, every aspect of their lives, the modern equivalent would be what we call the process of brainwashing.
You see this, in the change of names. Their Hebrew names had been full of hope and promise of assurance. Daniel meant “God is my judge.” Hananiah meant “Beloved of the Lord.” Mishael meant “Who is this God?” And, Azariah meant, “The Lord is my help.” But, as soon as they were carried to Babylon, their names were changed. Daniel became Belteshazzar, meaning Ba’al, prince (Ba’al was a pagan Babylonian god). Hananiah became Shadrach—“Illumined by the sun god.” Mishael was changed to Mishach—“Who is like Venus.” And Azariah was changed to Abednego—“The servant of Nego” (another false god).
You see, behind this change of names was a satanic attempt to wipe out from the memory of these Jewish boys their heritage, their faith, their homes in Jerusalem, and to have these young men become completely assimilated into the Babylonian culture. Now the king’s design was that these young Israelites should forget everything that had been in their background and convert them to efficient servants of the Babylonian kingdom.
Now, in order to accomplish this, King Nebuchadnezzar ordered that these young men should be fed from the king’s royal table, and immediately Daniel and his three friends were faced with a crisis. For on the king’s fare and the King’s table was meat that was forbidden by the Law of Moses. There was wine that had been offered up to the pagan gods at the pagan feasts. They had to make a decision.
Can we imagine the conversation that took place among these four young men? One of them might have said, “Well, remember, we’re far from home. We may never see Jerusalem again; and when in Babylon, let’s do as the Babylonians do. We can hardly be expected to hold to our old faith and our old ways.” Another might have said, “Well, after all, what difference does it make? Right or wrong isn’t dependent upon what we eat or what we drink.” And another might have argued, “Remember, we have the gate of opportunity before us. Why should we follow the old ways when all this chance of advancement, and being great in the eyes of the king, and being advanced, and these great opportunities? Why should we be difficult and be different?” The Bible says, “Daniel said, ‘No, I will not partake of the king’s table.” For we read in v. 8, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.”
Now, where did this fixed purpose come from in Daniel’s life? From meditation in the Word of God and his secret soul communion with God every day. And he and his friends demonstrated their faith, by requesting a substitution, that they might not have to partake of the meat and the wine from the king’s table, but rather that they could eat something else.
At first the prince of the eunuchs was reluctant. But God had already gone ahead. And this passage says that he had prepared the heart of the prince of the eunuchs so that he was favorable towards Daniel. And so, he granted him a test. For ten days they could eat only of pulse, which was a vegetable, and of water. And then he would see what it was like at the end of that time. And, as the record says, at the end of ten days, the faces of these young Hebrew men were fair and fleshier and more favorable than the other young men who partook of the kings’ table. And once the value was exhibited, the prince of the eunuchs granted them permission to no longer have to eat of the king’s table, but, for the next three years, they could eat their own fare.
But this passage also says that God rewarded them with greater honors and greater faithfulness, in v. 17: “As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” In addition to making them wholesome, and fair, and fleshier, God gave them knowledge and discernment, to discern between truth and error in their training. And he gave Daniel a great gift in being able to interpret dreams. And so, we find here the way that God prepared and honored a young man, whom he was to use as his instrument for bringing revelation and prophetic truth to his people. And there were none like these four young men in all the kingdom.
Now, this simple story introduces us to the book of Daniel—the kind of man that God is going to use in fulfilling his purpose. And there are some blessed truths here for us this morning, my dear friends.
The exhortation to Christians in the New Testament is, “Be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” But you know it, and I know it, that the din and cry of the world about us today is “Conform.” We know from the experience of the late 60’s and the early 70’s of the hippies and all, the cry was even “Conform to nonconformity.” But the cry of the world around every one of us today is “Conform.” The constant assault of this age around us, upon the Christian, is for us to depart from our foundations and go with the crowd—to drift with the multitude.
And the enticements and the inducements that we hear are familiar to every one of us. Listen to them, “Oh, come on. Everybody’s doing it. Nobody believes that anymore. You’ll never get ahead if you don’t. You have to make friends and influence people. Such beliefs are from the dark ages; no intelligent person in the 20th [now 21st] century follows that anymore. You want to be popular, don’t you? You want people to think that you’re peculiar?” And we need to think positively all the time, never negatively. And on and on we could go.
And it isn’t only the attractive things that appeal to the senses. The world’s spirit that surrounds us this morning hits at us in every way, makes pressures even within the religious world—church life. This is the day of emphasis on oneness: one world, one church, one great world government. “Conform. Everybody’s doing it. Why do you have to be difficult and be different?”
But, may I remind you of something this morning? Do you know what this word, Babylon, really means? The word Babylon means confusion. Confusion. And the Christian is not called to confusion. Nor is he called to not conform to the standards of God’s holy, precious Word.
And the time comes in each and every one of our lives. And you don’t escape and I do. It comes time and again, as it did for Daniel and his friends, when you and I have to make a decision, when we face a crisis. Am I going to stand and be true to the Lord? Or, am I going to conform? Am I going to stand alone, maybe? But I’m going to be true to the Savior. Sometimes this trial comes out against the world; sometimes it comes right within the church.
And, you know, friends, frankly there is nothing more pitiable to behold, than to behold a Christian who has everything to stand for, and everything he needs for making that stand—all the resources at his command. And yet, to behold that one like a jellyfish, and for conformity’s sake, turning his back on his convictions and going with the crowd. And then, tragically, to behold the deterioration that begins to take place in his life and in his conscience.
Do you want to know where the lack of power and enjoyment comes from? The indifference that so seems to settle over our souls, spiritually? The little true heart knowledge that we really possess of the Lord? The real little communion we have with the Lord every day? Do you want to know where it starts? It starts right here. In our moment of crisis and confrontation, when we can either stand for the Lord, or we can go and conform with the crowd. And it’s haughty.
And may I remind you again this morning, God has never called us to that. As it was with Daniel, so it must be with us.
Where did Daniel get such convictions that he was willing to stand in the face of the emperor of the greatest empire of that time? I’ll tell you where he got the convictions: from meditating in God’s Word and daily soul communion with his God.
And may I insert right here, I have never known a Christian who had solid convictions and a real grasp and knowledge of God’s revealed truth, who was led astray by some false teaching or by some false group. But I have known a great many so-called believers, who knew next to nothing about the Scriptures, who spent no time alone with the Lord, and who were led astray by any kind of false teaching or false cult or false group that came along. You and I cut ourselves from the anchor of the Word of God, and, I assure you, we’re going to drift with the multitudes religiously and morally and ethically in every way.
Martin Luther dared to stand against the ecclesiastical machine of his day, and say, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Why? Because Martin Luther had deep seated heart convictions, concerning the truth of God’s revelation. And he planted his feet firmly upon the infallible, inspired Word of God.
Furthermore, we need that daily soul-communion with the Lord—a blessed time every day—if you and I are going to experience the grace and the strength that God provides. You heard the old saying, “To be level with God, is to be level for God.” And that’s true, from personal experience. But how marvelous it is, how wonderful, to have the Holy Spirit confirm the one part: “This is what I should do. This is the convictions that I should have. This is the stand that I ought to make.” And then to have the blessed Holy Spirit witness with our spirit and give us that inner peace of assurance that I am honoring the Lord God. And, woe the blessed truth, that once we have purposed in our hearts, once we have made the decisive stand, once we have honored the Lord, then we find that he is true. He’s faithful to his promises. He’ll never forsake us. He never lets us down. He gives us everything we need to remain firm. If we acknowledge our weakness, if we acknowledge our emptiness, and we cast ourselves completely upon him, he supplies the grace and the strength and the power to stabilize us.
Daniel and his three friends didn’t go hungry—pulse and water. But they came out looking better than those who fed at the king’s table. And, may I say to you, as you feed upon the Word of God, as you spend time every day with the Lord, you’re going to find that the Holy Spirit will increase your strength, and your power, and your determination, and your conviction to live for him.
Now, perhaps, God has been speaking to some of your hearts this morning, and your memory brings back to you that time when you should have stood firm, that time when you should have taken a stand for Jesus Christ unashamedly (even though all the pressures … whether it was family pressures, peer pressures, whatever it was), you should have stood firm. You should have said, “No! I’m going to honor Christ.” Or maybe some of you are aware of something that is down the road (some crisis that is going to confront you), and you’re going to have to make a decision. “What am I going to do? Am I going to conform? Am I going to go the way of the crowd? Or, am I going to stand true for Jesus Christ?”
May I insert right here, I think the day is not far off, down the road, where you and I, every single believer, is going to be forced to this. And it’s rapidly approaching faster than any of us can imagine, when we are going to have to stand at the line and make a decision. Are we true to Christ, or are we not going to be true to Christ?
Now, you know full well down in your heart what happens whatever choice you make. When you give in, you feel dirty down in the inside. You feel terrible. You’re repulsed by your own weakness and your own cowardice. But, when you stand true, you feel strong. You feel clean down on the inside. You find a new strength, and a new power, and a new purpose, and a new determination to honor and live for the Lord.
And so, may I say to you, in closing this morning … If you want to say, “No!” but you can’t seem to be able to, then get into the Word of God and let that Word get into your soul. Spend time alone with Christ every day. Purpose in your heart to stand true for Jesus Christ. Tell Christ about your weakness. He knows all about it. He knows you better than you know yourself. And he’ll give you the strength. And he’ll give you the enabling of the Holy Spirit. And you’ll know the faithfulness of God. As you stand for him, he’ll supply the strength and he’ll supply the knowledge to resist the evil.
Now, Daniel and his three friends said, “No!” You can too, by God’s grace and by God’s power.And I submit this morning that he is calling everyone who names his name to this.
You’ve heard me say this little ditty time and again, “And they of the church and they of the world journeyed closely hand and heart, and none but the master who knoweth all could tell the two apart.”
“Be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Daniel said, “No!” What do you say?